Social Mobility and the Coalition….
Social mobility is one of those time-honoured political concepts that it is always handy to dust-off. After all, nobody can reasonably be against social mobility, can they? Before I answer that question I would say that this idea is particularly important for this government which is widely, and rightly, seen as a government whose dubious ‘talent’ is drawn from a very narrow and also very distant social elite. In selecting this Cabinet; Cameron and Clegg obviously ran a kind-of X Factor (at Eton of course), and selected the people who were so awful they didn’t even make the finals thus proving the law that true meritocracy works in reverse and that the most talentless always rise to the top. Comments like those attributed to Oliver Letwin, that the last thing we need is the people of Sheffield getting cheap holidays, only serve to reinforce both points (that the Cabinet is filled with snobs and they have less talent for anything than your average amoeba). Given the actions of a certain Mr Nick Clegg there is a fair case that they should receive state-subsidised holidays.
However, we shouldn’t let the government forget what it is and even if we say nothing then there is always David Davis who seems to be constantly on-hand to help us along. Davis’s contribution; saying basically what a bag of rubbish the governments proposals actually are, speak volumes about the continuing ambitions of a man who is doubtless polishing his very special leader-slaying daggers in preparation for Cameron’s back as we speak. I wonder what odds there are of Davis being the next Prime Minister, I don’t often give betting advice but that one might be worth a punt.
Returning to the original question. My problem with social mobility is a) it shows how alienated we are from real democratic control in our lives that the state is the only feasible force to enhance this and b) it’s a substitute for giving people that control. In that sense, while I want people to be able to do well, I am reluctant to buy too much into the idea its a path to nirvana. Nonetheless, the left has to be careful when critiquing social mobility as a concept because if it gets it wrong it tends to reinforce the popular, though I believe misjudged, impression that the left’s dream society is actually modelled on that of the Borg from Star Trek.
So, for example, if they mean it and tend to legally enforce it on everybody, I would welcome the abolition of unpaid internships and this group being given full employment rights. Dave Osler is, of course, quite right when he says it wont overturn the class system and it wont bring about the democratic redistribution of power that I want but I believe in supporting measures that will objectively make people’s lives better or at least solve a certain problem, even if that is short of tackling the giant capitalist elephant in the room.
We should tackle it head-on when the proposals don’t go far enough; as they invariably will not, but be careful of looking like we have an ideological aversion to people doing well and wanting to make the best of their lives. Our point, surely, is that capitalism is what stops them doing this and that is why it has to be changed; not that ambition is a cardinal sin that is punishable by at least 300 Hail Marx’s! Co-operation and giving people real democratic power in the economic sphere will allow each and every one of us to realise our ambitions and potentials much better than this undemocratic and lopsided system ever could and that’s the central critique we should have of social mobility; not that it is inherently a bad thing.